Unforgotten Years

by Logan Pearsall Smith [Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.50]
‘SPEAKING with all sincerity, everything is ignominy here below but art.’ These words of Flaubert, which quickened the youthful spirit of Logan Pearsall Smith, admit, of diverse interpretation according to our definition of ’art.’ Shakespeare in all unconsciousness seems to have lived by them; Tolstoy obeyed their compulsion despite his much protesting; Rodin and Beethoven accepted their gospel. To the author of Unforgotten Years they have brought solace in his lifelong search for the mot juste, and justification for his ivory tower. From this aloof, but not remote, observatory he has looked out upon men and letters for the allotted span of years, weighing and appraising and savoring life.
The list of his published works is brief; much of their substance is anthological — the delicate, often whimsical, always honest appreciation of the perfect, or imperfect, word in others. With a characteristic blend of modesty and whimsy and assurance he now writes: ‘ There is of course nothing that I should like better than to write something which posterity will read. But my hope of doing so is not at all based on the various books I have already written, but rather on the books I shall write in the next twenty or thirty years. I still see myself, young and full of promise, on the threshold of a great career - I feel that the books of reference which make out that I am over seventy have made a serious mistake.’
And it is true that this latest and most significant of his books, along with its amused detachment, maturity of taste, frank yet discreet self-revelation, and the demurely twinkling reminiscences of his family background, yet possesses a youthful quality: the man who criticizes the ‘mushroom writing’ of to-day is still the boy who forsook America and the mercenary genie-inthe-bottle factory for the ’golden leisure’ of Europe. He would seem never to have repented of that early decision. These ordered memories of his life, with their clearsighted and unruffled recognition of his own limitations and their tranquil disavowal of any responsibility for solving the riddle of the ugly civilization from which he yet consented to accept a livelihood, might suggest to the conventionally moral reader a combination of the cynic’s disillusion with the Quaker’s inner light, disconcertingly poignant, were not their confessional honesty so disarming.
For the book is enchantingly written. Though Henry James bade the young aspirant inscribe the word ‘loneliness’ upon his banner, a procession of distinguished names moves across these lucid pages. This would-be recluse reveals himself as a being of delightful social gifts. Honesty, urbanity, humor, and an outlook upon life at once fastidious and mellow, give to his autobiographical reminiscences both substance and charm.